Lawmakers call for independent audit of parks department
A group of bipartisan lawmakers urged the Legislature to launch an independent audit of the Department of Parks and Recreation, adding to a string of reviews of the embattled agency.
“We have uncovered that there’s a whole culture of deception and entitlement in the state parks department, far greater than we anticipated,” said Assemblywoman Beth Gaines (R-Rocklin) at a news conference outside the Capitol.
The department has been under fire since it was revealed to have $54 million stashed in two special funds even though officials were soliciting private donations to prevent parks from closing because of budget cuts. The controversy has cost the department’s director, Ruth Coleman, and her chief deputy their jobs.
The Joint Legislative Audit Committee, which includes lawmakers from the Assembly and the Senate, is scheduled to meet Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., and will decide whether to order a review from the state auditor.
Gaines said Friday's announcement that Gov. Jerry Brown's administration would begin scrutinizing special funds more carefully was inadequate.
“We need an independent audit done, and we need the audit done immediately,” she said.
Brown's office has already announced its own audit of the parks department, and the attorney general is also pursuing an investigation. Another legislative hearing, this one from the Assembly Budget Committee, is scheduled for Thursday and will examine how the state accounts for its 500-plus special funds. The Senate is expected to hold its own review next week.
The flurry of activity comes near the end of the legislative session when there are more than 800 bills on the table, covering issues including public employee pensions and gun control.
Assemblyman Jim Nielsen (R-Biggs), who joined Gaines at the news conference, said the parks situation should take precedence and he called for “many committee hearings” into the matter.
“There is no issue more important than getting the state budget under control,” he said.
-- Christine Mai-Duc in Sacramento
Photo: Ruth Coleman, former director of California state parks, discusses the possible closure of 70 of California's state parks due to budget cuts in 2011. Controversy over $54 million in hidden funds recently cost Coleman her job. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press